The wind was biting against his torn up skin. Blood was caked under his fingernails, on his face, arms, legs, torso – it was everywhere. Every bone in his body was aching and the possibility of having a few fractures ribs wasn't out of the question either but he was still standing. It was a chore, sure, but he was all in one piece and that's what mattered. People were back, safe and sound, reuniting with their friends and family. Tony took a deep breath despite his aching lungs, closed his eyes in relief for a second then opened them again and took in the scene before him.
His eyes met T'Challa's, hugging his sister and the fierce ladies he had fought side by side with – Okoye and Nakia – and they both nodded at each other in an unspoken exchange of gratitude and acceptance of said gratitude.
The Guardians were a little ways over, huddled together by a rock. Rocket was scolding Groot for having died on him – and boy was that something Tony himself had to do with a certain webslinger in a minute – while Quill was on the ground, leaning back into Gamora's torso with the woman playing with his hair. The others were gathered around the two pairs.
Tony smiled at the sight, glad to see them back together and happier than ever. His smile broadened when he caught sight of Thor and Loki, laughing and gesturing around wildly, no doubt catching each other up on what they'd done during the other's absence (Loki showing up in the middle of the final battle in a blaze of glory had been the miracle Tony hadn't believed would come but had wished would).
Rhodey and Wilson were heading for the med bay, chatting amicably and shoving each other around. A pang of jealousy and something else shot through his veins at the sight, anger still present for what had happened to Rhodey those years ago, but Tony pushed it down down down. Rhodey had moved on, he had to as well.
Tony jumped in surprise and turned around, coming face to face with a certain android. His face broke out into a grin.
"Vision! Good to see you, buddy. How's the new body working for ya?"
"It is quite pleasant, sir. I find I do not feel the absence of the Soul Stone at all. Though I am curious about how you managed to keep my abilities without it."
"Ah, that's a conversation for another time, Jarv- Vision," Tony coughed. "See you in my lab some time around next week to discuss everything? Great, see you then."
He didn't wait for Vision's confirmation. He turned around and started walking, searching for a teenager with too few self-preservation instincts and a stubborn streak. Instead, he found Barnes perched on a rock, wearily looking around with a fussing Rogers all over him. Tony cringed, and tried to turn in the opposite direction to avoid this meeting but Barnes caught his eye and called out his name.
"Stark! Come 'ere for a bit."
Tony grimaced but changed course.
"Barnes. Rogers," he didn't meet the latter's eye. "What can I do for you?"
"Oh, I think you've done plenty already. Just wanted to thank you, 's all," Barnes said. Tony almost recoiled in shock, but reigned it down just perfectly. He blinked a few times, mouth dry. He didn't know what he would've said even if his mouth could function properly. What would a normal person do when confronted with their parents' – admittedly brainwashed – killer thanking them for saving their life and the entire universe? Well, a normal person wouldn't be in that situation from the beginning, so the entire scenario was useless anyway.
"I- You're welcome. Barnes," Tony added, mouth still dry. "Is that all?"
"Yeah," the brunet nodded. "Unless.." he trailed off, unsure.
"Unless what? Spit it out, I don't bite."
"My arm is acting up. Maybe you could take a look, fix things up for me?"
Question marks popped up in Tony's head. Why would he ask Tony for maintenance work when he had a perfectly capable team of engineers from Wakanda right there, who also happened to have made that very same arm, by the way? But, seeing the gesture for what it was, – an olive branch – Tony accepted it.
"Sure. Call me next week, I'll arrange a meeting. Maybe you can come over with Vision."
Tony nodded. "Now, if that's all, I have someone to find so excuse me," he brushed past Rogers gracefully, avoiding contact by a millimeter, and resumed his task of finding the little troublemaker. Peter didn't seem to be anywhere in sight so far, but there were a lot of people getting reunited on Wakanda's field so it was no surprise he couldn't spot him. Tony just had to look harder.
"Dammit, Steve. Leave it alone," Barnes gritted out.
Tony balled his hands into fists, forcing his racing heart to slow down.
"What is it you want, Captain Rogers?" he asked without turning around. The idiot didn't seem to get the idea because he jogged over to Tony, right in his line of sight.
"It's good to see you alive and well," the blond smiled, as if in relief, as if nothing had happened between them. As if Thanos had erased all that past like a sponge. As if nothing had broken Tony's heart to shreds.
"Likewise," Tony replied, voice neutral. "I don't have time for chit chats right now, so call my assistant to schedule a meeting some time from next week to the next thousand years preferably and we'll talk then."
Tony tried to move past him, but Rogers stepped in front of him, cutting him off.
"Tony, don't be like this. Does what happened here change nothing? We fought side by side, like old times. I'm home, I'm finally home, Tony. Aren't you happy?"
Tony snapped his head in Rogers' direction so fast he thought he heard a bone cracking.
"Happy? Happy, Steve?!" Tony yelled, laughing incredulously. "You played me like a deck of cards and you expect me to be happy about you barging into my life like this?"
Rogers opened his mouth to say something, hurt puppy face in place already, but Tony didn't allow him to do it.
"No, you know what? If you so kindly opened the subject now, we might as well get on with it and come clean. So here's what I wanna say to you: first off, thank you. Really, thank you. That day two years ago, when you broke my trust and my heart? You rescued me, Rogers. You rescued me from a life of pain and suffering and loneliness. I may have not been alone when I was with you and the team, but I sure as hell felt lonely.
"I was a joke to you, wasn't I, Rogers? Poor genius, can't take care of himself, desperate for love. Let's play with him, right? Is that what you thought? Well, you were everything to me, Steve. Everything. And you ruined it. All of it. But now? You don't matter to me anymore. You're just a page in my novel. You're not even worth a chapter."
"How can you say that, Tony? I loved you, I loved you with all my heart! But you made me do all that! If you had just believed me from the start and sided with me.." Tears were pouring freely from Steve's bloodied face but it did nothing to soften Tony's resolve or the burning fire in his chest. It only disgusted him further.
"No, Steve. You didn't love me. And I didn't make you do anything. You're a big boy, you make your own decisions. But it doesn't matter whose fault it was – the UN already decided that if you didn't get the memo. What matters is that you've got to let this go, let me go. I've moved on from you. Don't come crying back to me, expecting me to welcome you with open arms because you're wasting your time.
"I've lost way more with you than I ever gained. I've lost my pride, my self esteem, what little I had of my mental stability. I've lost myself. And now you're coming after me, crying? Well that's just a shame, Rogers, because you had the best but now only the worst is coming your way."
Steve wiped his eyes, looking at Tony with heartbreak.
"You've gotta understand, Tony-"
"I've got no reason to understand anything. I owe you nothing, Rogers. Now just let me be, and run back to your best friend. You chose him over me, and you'd do it a thousand times over if you had to. Well, now I'm choosing myself, so stay the fuck away from me from now on."
Tony looked away in disinterest and caught sight of Peter stumbling around aimlessly. His heart warmed, a weight lifted off his chest, and his face broke into a sickeningly sweet smile.
"Pete!" he yelled, already running towards the teenager, ignoring the ache in his body. Peter turned his head around, running to meet Tony.
"Mr. Stark! I've found you!"
They met each other in the middle, crashing into one another in a fierce hug. Tony rubbed the kid's back, patting him all the way, as if reassuring himself he was really there in the flesh and not as dust on his clothes and hands.
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Stark. I'm so sorry," Peter kept mumbling in Tony's shoulder. Neither of them seemed willing to let go any time soon, so they found a spare rock nearby and slid down, still clinging to each other.
"Shh, save it for later, kid," Tony shushed him. He shut his eyes tight, letting the tears spill over his cheeks, unafraid for the first time in a long time to show weakness in front of this kid, his kid. When he opened them, he saw Stephen Strange leaning against the Hulkbuster with a smile on his face, looking at him.
'Thank you,' Tony mouthed to the wizard. Strange nodded while his Cloak waved at him, and Tony huffed a laugh.
"Something wrong, Mr. Stark?" Peter asked, voice concerned.
"Nah," Tony shook his head. "Everything's perfect, Pete. Don't you worry about a thing."
People kept walking past the pair, shooting curious looks or fond smiles their way, but nothing in the world mattered more than the teenager in his arms and the fact that he was back in one piece. Hours passed, the crowd dispersed, but Tony lay there on the ground, facing Peter, and hearing his incessant babble with interest in his eyes and love in his smile until the sun was nothing but the ghost of a hue on the Wakandan horizon.